Saturday, May 31, 2008

Iowa City, Part II

I said a couple days ago that I'd soon be writing about all the wonderful food we ate in Iowa City over Memorial weekend. It's time.

We went to Iowa City for the express purpose of eating all the food that my husband loved in college. I'd been to a couple of them, but most were new to me. It was a fun weekend.

We started out with cheeseburgers at a tiny dive bar called George's. My husband says he knew vegetarians that made exceptions for George's cheeseburgers. Apparently at one time this place was called George's Buffet, but it's about the farthest from a buffet you can get. I think the food options were hamburger, cheeseburger, and chili. That's it. I was impressed. While too heavy on the mustard, it was an excellent cheeseburger. Definitely go if you're in the Iowa City area.

Next was a beer & some little beer battered cheese at Brother's. It's a pretty typical college bar in every way, but the outdoor patio was nice and the cheese was good.

Dinner was a calzone at Sam's Pizza. This place was the inspiration of the entire trip. I'd been there before. My husband raved about the calzones all the time, and when I had my first, I thought it was good, but nothing special. But the next day, I wanted another one. Three days later, I still wanted another one. A week later, still wanted another. In fact, I'd like one right now. See for yourself - doesn't it look delicious?

Yep, I know you want one...

Before going back to the hotel, we stopped for a drink at The Sanctuary. I wish Minneapolis had a place like this.

The next day, we hit up The Vine for their famous Maple Hot wings. Yum. I don't have pictures, but you should go there. If you want a more traditional restaurant atmosphere, go to the Coralville location, but if you want a more tavern-like atmosphere, go to the original one in Iowa City.

In the meantime, we made several trips to The Dublin Underground. It's a tiny little Irish pub that serves a beer called Dempsey's. It's actually brewed in Wisconsin, but it was tasty nonetheless. If you ever find it in a liquor store or on tap, try it. Again, why doesn't Minneapolis have a place like this?

We finished off the trip with lunch Monday at Micky's Irish Pub. It's nothing special, just a small bar & grill with good sandwiches.

Oh, and the funniest part of the trip:

You saw that right - that's a grilled cheese cart.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Iowa City, Part I

Over Memorial Day weekend, we went to Iowa City, IA - basically for the sole purpose of eating at a few of the places my husband loved from college. So, I could go on and on about how wonderful those places were (and I will), but before I do that, I'm going to write about something completely non-food-related: a pet store. Odd choice, I know, but you'd understand if you had any inkling how much I love my cats.

We were walking around the area near the university and came across a store that had some cats playing in the window. They were cute, so I had to go in. On the way in, I noticed a "stop puppy mills" sign. I was intrigued, but admittedly a little confused why a pet store would be anti-puppy mill. Turns out, this was definitely not your traditional pet store.

This place rescues animals from kill shelters and other bad situations, and people can bring in abandoned animals or those found in parking lots, dumpsters, etc. It takes care of them, nurses them back to health (if necesssary) and puts them up for adoption. It appeared that they focus on cats, dogs, and rabbits, though I wouldn't be surprised if that's just what they had recently rescued. I mostly went around and played with the cats. They all had spacious living areas, toys, and a companion or two.

They had pictures of every animal they've adopted out, with its new owner, lining the walls - I think the number was over 1200, and the store has only been open a couple years. I wish I could've taken a couple home with me to make room for them to take in more animals. I encourage all of you to support places like this in your area and consider adopting pets - they improve your life in more ways than you can imagine.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

RIP Grandma's Restaurant

Today, May 22, 2008, Grandma's Restaurant on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota will close it's doors for good. The restaurant has operated from its West Bank location since 1981.

Your cheeseburgers and mozzarella sticks will be deeply missed. You will never be truly replaced.

Please don't close.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spaghetti with Shallots & Garlic

Rachael Ray calls this "That's Shallota Flavor Spaghetti." I think that's hokey. In fact, the name turned me off from making it for a while, so I decided to give it a new name. I really enjoyed this and would recommend it. Don't let the 10 shallots scare you away- they mellow as you saute them. I hope you enjoy it. I made a couple changes and have noted them below in italics.

Spaghetti with Shallots & Garlic
Recipe from FoodNetwork
Serves 4
Cook Time - about 25 min


2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
2 TBSP butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (I used 4 cloves)
10 shallots, halved then thinly sliced
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and black pepper
1 lb whole-wheat spaghetti (I used Ronzoni Smart Taste)
A generous handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat the extra-virgin olive oil with the butter over medium-low heat in a skillet with high sides. Add garlic and shallots and season with salt and pepper then cook gently until caramelized about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. This took me only about 10 or 15 minutes

Meanwhile heat a large pot of water to boil for pasta, salt the water very liberally then add spaghetti and bring to a rolling boil. Cook to al dente. Add 2 ladles of starchy cooking water, about 1 cup, to the shallots and stir (I used chicken stock instead of starchy water). Drain pasta and add to shallots. Add the parsley and cheese and more black pepper, to taste. Toss 1 to 2 minutes for liquid to absorb and serve.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Good Old Fashioned Wii Party

Tonight we're having a Wii party/birthday party for my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. We'll be serving the following:

Fried Chicken
Creamed Corn
Buttermilk biscuits
Mascarpone Cupcakes

Wish me luck!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rigatoni with Italian Sausage

If you haven't figured it out yet, we love Italian food. Really love it. I personally think it's one of the best cuisines available. I think I could eat spaghetti with marinara sauce pretty much every day, and my husband thinks the same about pizza. I made up this recipe after looking at a bunch of recipes on CookingLight and FoodNetwork and playing around with them. The end result was great. I loved the combination of spicy Italian sausage with tomatoes and cheese. It worked a lot better than ground beef does. I even think I'm going to submit this over to Ruth for Presto Pasta Nights. I hope you enjoy it, too.

My husband thought the casserole dish looked cool. And because it's just that good, here's another photo of it.

Rigatoni with Italian Sausage

2/3 lb Rigatoni Noodles
1/3 lb bulk hot Italian sausage
½ medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp tomato paste
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 can petite diced tomatoes (I recommend Muir Glen Organic)
2 cubes Trader Joe’s frozen fresh basil (about 1 ½ TBSP fresh chopped)
~1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
¼ cup shredded Asiago Cheese
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350.

Cook pasta to al dente. Drain & set aside.

Brown sausage in medium skillet. When about halfway done, add onions and garlic and finish cooking. When sausage is browned, add tomato paste, salt, & pepper. Add tomatoes and basil and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

In a large bowl, combine sausage mixture with pasta. Toss to coat. Place half the mixture in a large casserole dish. Top with half the Mozzarella cheese, half the Asiago, and half the Parmesan. Repeat.

Bake for approximately 25 min or until the cheese is bubbly.

*I recommend serving this with garlic bread and a side salad. Have you figured out yet how much I like garlic bread?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Italian Baked Chicken & Pastina

I've been debating with myself whether to post this recipe. It's somewhat similar to the Fusilli alla Caprese I posted a while ago. In the end, I decided it's different enough (and tasty enough) that it warrants it's own blog post. I like it because it's nice and light, but yet comforting.

Photo from FoodNetwork -
Mine was... not so photogenic

Italian Baked Chicken & Pastina

Recipe by Giada de Laurentiis
Serves 4
Total Cook & Prep Time - about 40 min

1 cup dry pastina pasta (or any small pasta) (I used shells)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cubed chicken breast (1-inch cubes) (I used about 1 cup)
1/2 cup diced onion (about 1/2 a small onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Drain pasta into a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic, stirring to combine, and cook until the onions are soft and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Put the chicken mixture into the bowl with the cooked pasta. Add the canned tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Place the mixture in a buttered 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking dish. In a small bowl mix together the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta mixture. Dot the top with small bits of butter. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Chicken Saltimbocca

In order to appreciate this dish fully, it's time for an Italian lesson:

Saltimbocca = jumps in the mouth
Deliziosi = delicious

Yes, Chicken Saltimbocca is delicious. It's full of flavor and... well... it's wonderful. Let's face it - the name is just cute.

Chicken and Lemon Saltimbocca
Recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, adapted slightly

Total prep & cook time - about 20-25 min

4 veal chops, pounded 1/2 to 1/4-inch thick (I used chicken breasts)
4 thin lemon slices
4 sage leaves, plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped (I chopped flat leaf parsley instead of chopped sage)
4 large slices prosciutto
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 (14.5 can) whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/2 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the chicken on a work surface and season with salt and pepper. Place a slice of lemon on top of each. Top with 1 leaf of sage. Lay a large piece of prosciutto on each and press to seal. (I used toothpicks)

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the veal chops in the hot oil, lemon side down. Saute until the prosciutto starts to caramelize, about 2 minutes. Turn the veal over and saute for another 2 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove to a platter and set aside.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the chicken broth and reduce by half. Add the tomatoes, cream, salt, and pepper. Stir until combined and hot. Pour the sauce over the veal and top with the remaining 1 teaspoon finely chopped sage (I used parsley). Serve immediately.

I served this with the pasta side I made with Chicken Rollatini. It complimented the dish well.